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May 23, 2010

Legal Self-Help Center moving forward with some support

CIrcuit Court judge says focus is on giving guidance to Clark county

CLARK COUNTY — The Clark County Legal Self-Help Center has a green light, even if full judicial support is yet to be determined.

Clark Circuit Court Judge Dan Moore has appeared at Clark County Council and Clark County Commissioners meetings pushing for support for the program, which is designed to provide residents of moderate and low income legal direction and assistance. No actual legal services will be offered at the center, but instead volunteer attorneys and second- and third-year law school students from the University of Louisville’s Brandeis School of Law will tell those who come in for help where to go and how to find assistance.

“What the focus on this has always been is ... guidance,” Moore said. “There is a need out here and people aren’t getting it.”

The effort will allow volunteers to help in a variety of legal issues, but will not include criminal cases. Instead, assistance will be offered for those who may become overwhelmed when facing the legal system.

“These are resources people in the legal system take for granted,” Moore said. “If you’re not in it, it looks imposing.”

To eliminate some confusion, Moore formed a planning group to help implement the program. Questions remained as to how to address some concerns, but simplify the legal process.

“I think one of the challenges is to work out a procedure or protocol, where there is no attorney-client relationship formed down there, but there is narrowing down this scary looking legal mess,” he said.

GETTING IT OFF THE GROUND

In attempts to launch the initiative, Moore made several appearances before the county council and commissioners to drum up support for the plan. While the program carries no cost — pamphlets are being provided, volunteer attorneys and students will be offering the guidance and legal malpractice insurance is being offered by the Indiana Pro Bono Commission — the center has not received unanimous backing.

A letter presented at a previous commissioners meeting signed by three Clark County Judges — Superior Court No. 1 Judge Vicki Carmichael; Superior Court No. 2 Judge Jerry Jacobi; and Superior Court No. 3 Judge Joseph Weber — said that the judges could not offer their support to the program.

The letter also said that there was already a program in place for “client coaching,” where attorneys agree to take on pro bono cases for credit.

“Under the project you have created, you would be drawing from that same limited pool of attorneys without offering pro bono credit, malpractice insurance or client coaching,” the letter said. “Since none of the Superior Court judges were included it the planning stages of your project, we are not able to determine whether it is a project worthy of support.”

Some of those sentiments have since changed, according to Moore.

Other judges raised a series of questions that will help to define day-to-day operations.

“I don’t have any concerns that we can get through the legal issues,” Moore said.

Some of the questions were outlined in the letter including: legal entity status of the help center; the partnership agreement with U of L’s law school; a possible conflict of interest associated with eventually charging low-income residents a fee; what income eligibility standards will be established; and an issue of obtaining malpractice insurance.

The letter also prompted Commissioner Mike Moore to vote against approving an ordinance that will allow the self help center to locate in the Clark County Government Building and provide some malpractice protection — the ordinance was approved in two readings 2-1 — with Mike Moore voting against in each vote.

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